Jewish heaven christian hell: Rabbi joshua ben levi’s vision of the afterlife

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This article aims to contribute to the history of medieval Jewish perceptions of the afterlife. It presents Rabbi Joshua ben Levi’s ‘Vision of heaven and hell’ a twelfth-century text that differs sharply from all other descriptions of heaven and hell whether Jewish or Christian by disregarding graduated judgements of sinners and the righteous in the afterlife. Rather it depicts a strictly segregated scenario with Jews in heaven and non-Jews in hell. Psychologically this vision transformed privation into privilege: misfortune in this world became proof of Jewish elevation in the next one and Christians’ prosperity in this world foretold their inevitable damnation. This study then surveys evidence of both Christian familiarity with Rabbi Joshua’s composition and subsequent Jewish notions of separate realms in the world to come. This analysis demonstrates that Jewish views of the afterworld were forged through considerable knowledge of and dialogue with Christian sources and thought although this level of awareness did not foster amity between these religious communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-227
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Medieval History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Adam Scotus
  • Afterlife
  • Heaven
  • Hell
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Joshua ben Levi
  • Peter the Venerable
  • Pharaoh’s daughter
  • Purgatory
  • Visio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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